Average weekly television viewing in the United Kingdom has passed its pandemic peak and is now returning to lower levels. In the last week of May, viewing of channels measured by BARB was back to the same level as the corresponding week the previous year. Unidentified viewing has fallen less and remains higher than the same time the previous year. This implies that people may maintaining online viewing habits that were reinforced during coronavirus restrictions. However, research suggests that most viewers still appreciate the value of free-to-view public service channels.

In the month of May, consolidated 7-day viewing on a television to BARB-reported channels was 192 minutes a day, compared to 211 minutes in April. In the last week of May, it was 176 minutes per day, which was a quarter of an hour less a week than the same week the previous year.

BARB Average weekly television viewing 2015-2020. Source: BARB. C7 TV Set at broadcast.

Unidentified viewing, which includes online video subscription services, was 77 minutes a day, the lowest since full lockdown began, but still higher than just over 50 minutes a day at the same time the year before.

Over 30% of all television viewing in May was not of BARB reported channels or programmes. It seems that viewers have continued to watch online video services, while other television viewing is returning to normal, where normal is almost five hours a week less than five years previously.

Preliminary viewing data for the first week in June suggest that the volume of viewing may have risen slightly, although unidentified viewing remains significantly higher year on year.

Generally, viewing has increased during the daytime, up over 12% compared to the start of the year. Post-peak viewing, after 11pm, has also risen by 14%, perhaps because many people have not needed to get up early in the morning.

Research from Freeview suggests that despite the popularity of online streaming services among younger generations, lockdown seems to have heightened their support for public-service broadcasters and free-to-view television.

The percentage of respondents who think free television, without subscription or contract, is important for society, especially at times of national crisis, has risen from 52% to 64% following the pandemic.

Differences in attitudes towards public service broadcasters between older generations and 16-34-year-olds was negligible, although the latter rated Netflix as lightly more important than the BBC at the time of a crisis, slightly ahead of the BBC.

Almost two thirds of 16-34-year-olds said that they now value content from the public service broadcasters more, with three quarters saying they play an important role in bringing together the nation in times of crisis, compared to 80% for all respondents.

“Young people value PSBs just as much as older viewers do — that is the unequivocal verdict from this research,” said Owen Jenkinson, marketing director of Freeview. “The idea that somehow British young adults are lost to streamers clearly doesn’t stack up. It seems the experience of lockdown and the need to be informed about their future has given younger viewers the opportunity to appreciate more what the PSBs offer.”

The Freeview research was conducted online by Aurora Market Research with a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 interviews.